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Australia is finally opening up, and sublime Rottnest Island is more irresistible than ever

Roger Federer started it when he took a selfie with a smiling little marsupial and posted it to his 31 million followers on social media. Then his fellow tennis star Rafael Nadal did the same thing last year and suddenly the world went crazy for quokkas.

But taking a quokka selfie is easier said than done. First, you need to find a biddable quokka.

These round hairballs, the size of an overfed house cat, roam freely on Rottnest Island, a protected nature reserve off the coast of Perth, Western Australia. With no natural predators on the island, they are adorably tame. But not everyone received the memo about the label on social media.

Pictured is Pinky Beach and Bathurst Lighthouse on Rottnest Island, famous for its quokka selfies

You have to go to Rotto: Pinky Beach and Bathurst Lighthouse on Rottnest Island

Quokkas, a type of wallaby, are native to Rottnest Island and regularly appear in selfies with tourists.

Quokkas, a type of wallaby, are native to Rottnest Island and regularly appear in selfies with tourists.

Quokkas, a type of wallaby, are native to Rottnest Island and regularly appear in selfies with tourists.

The first one I approached looked at me strangely and then I walked away. One second he was too distracted by his friends (clearly a teenager) to look at the camera. But the third quokka turned out to be the Kate Moss of the marsupial world, grinning widely as I lay on the ground next to her, taking pictures on my iPhone. She smiled, turned, turned her head from left to right, but never lost eye contact with the camera. What a star!

The Quokkas, who are native to Rottnest, have managed to put an island that no one outside of Australia had ever firmly heard of on the tourist trail. But when you are there, you wonder why it took so long.

‘Rotto’, as the locals call it, has everything you could want in a vacation spot, divided into just seven square miles of coastal scrub. Cars are not allowed on the island, so everyone rides electric bikes and bikes, stopping to see examples of the 50 native bird species or to swim at one of the 63 beaches, all so ridiculously pretty they seem to have been excerpted from a Disney version of Treasure Island.

As Rafael Nadal demonstrated when he emerged dripping from the sea to millions of likes on Instagram, this water is something else. Surrounded by coral reefs and teeming with tropical fish, it’s the blue of the Indian Ocean for a Curacao cocktail.

However, it was Rottnest’s bleak past as a prison island for Aboriginal men in the 1840s and later as an internment camp during the two world wars that kept it in the dark for so many years.

It wasn’t until after WWII, when basic bungalow accommodation was built for local families, that it began its reinvention as a vacation island.

Now, with a new memorial recognizing the thousands of Aboriginal lives lost there, Rottnest is leaving its dark days behind to emerge as a fitting destination for the 800,000 international tourists who leave the ferries each year.

As there is very little overnight accommodation in Rottnest (although the five-star, 80-room Samphire Rottnest opened last October as the island’s first new resort hotel in 30 years), most tourists take the 25-minute ferry. minutes from Fremantle, near Perth. round trip in one day.

But I managed to get a bed at the recently opened Discovery Rottnest Island, a cluster of stylish eco-friendly tents with proper beds, private baths, a pool, and an on-site restaurant. Oh, and a quokka waiting for you with a smile on your private deck every morning.

Fiona McIntosh of the Daily Mail recommends booking a walking tour of Perth city center.  Pictured is London Court shopping arcade, one of the city's most popular tourist attractions.

Fiona McIntosh of the Daily Mail recommends booking a walking tour of Perth city center.  Pictured is London Court shopping arcade, one of the city's most popular tourist attractions.

Fiona McIntosh of the Daily Mail recommends booking a walking tour of Perth city center. Pictured is London Court shopping arcade, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.

With this influx of international visitors comes a new strip of what the tourism industry likes to call “experiences.” You can walk the island with a botanist or spend a glorious day, like me, on a Wild Seafood Experience cruise, which pretty much does what it says on the tin.

You hop on a boat that takes you around the island, stopping to transport lobsters, which are grilled on board and served with mountains of coconut rice, oysters, barramundi, and a never-ending supply of Margaret River chardonnay.

What’s also appealing about this crazy Australian summer decline is that it’s now only 16 hours from wintry Britain. I hopped on the Qantas direct flight from London to Perth in sleet and came down in the blazing 34 ° C sun.

In the photo, Cottesloe, the largest beach in the city of Perth, where you can swim in the waves and sunbathe on the grass.

In the photo, Cottesloe, the largest beach in the city of Perth, where you can swim in the waves and sunbathe on the grass.

In the photo, Cottesloe, the largest beach in the city of Perth, where you can swim in the waves and sunbathe on the grass.

While Perth used to be known as a pit stop on your way elsewhere, it has morphed into the kind of action-packed destination that could eat up your entire vacation allowance.

After landing, downtown Perth is definitely worth a night or two. Book a walking tour of the city to discover the secret alleys covered in wild and beautiful street art, the whiskey speakeasies hidden in the basements, and the little restaurant you normally would never find that serves the best pizza in town (The Cheeky Sparrow).

The Western Australian Museum has just reopened after a £ 200 million remodel and features a blue whale skeleton the size of a school bus.

Hop in a taxi and head to the largest beach in Perth city, Cottesloe, where you can swim in the waves, sunbathe on the grass, and then walk to The Shorehouse for a lunch of blue swimmer crab and prawn linguine.

The most direct ferry to Rottnest departs from Fremantle, a port city south of Perth, but this pretty cluster of restored Federation houses and shops is a destination unto itself.

Stayed in one of the beautifully renovated old boozers, The National Hotel, with wraparound wrought iron decks, where you can have a gin cocktail on the rooftop deck instead of sinking a Foster’s into a sawdust floor.

With Australia set to reopen its borders in mid-2022, it’s about time Australians shared this little gem with sun-hungry Brits. But come fast before the quokkas break the internet again.

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